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Osteopathy

by Michael Braunstein

 
 

Form and function

Keeping the body in its proper alignment is one of the osteopathic keys to health. Helping the spine and skeletal system allow the various organs and the lymphatic system operate properly is a major concern. That is why bodywork, physical positioning and manipulation, is often part of osteopathic treatment. One system just coming to light in medicine is the cranial-sacral chamber system. Cranio-Sacral therapy is one of the techniques pioneered by osteopathy.

The body has many circulatory systems. The digestive system actually is one. The cardiovascular is obviously one Western medicine concerns itself with. The lymphatic system is being more and more understood as important to health. And the craniosacral system is now getting attention even from allopathic doctors.

In the early 1900's, an osteopath named William Sutherland first detected the pulse and flow of the fluid contained in the brain and spinal column. The brain essentially "floats" in a fluid enclosed by membranes in the skull. It is a more-or-less closed system that also allows the fluid to flow down into the hollow core of the spinal column. The proper maintenance of that circulatory system is considered essential to health. Sutherland intuited that from the fact that he realized that the cranial bones are not static. That is, they move and articulate just like any other joint in the body. He was able to see improvement in his patients' health when he would manipulate the body in such a way to improve the circulation in the spinal canal. His ideas were not embraced right away, even by osteopathic medicine. Not until research by Dr. John Upledger at the University of Michigan State in 1970, was the technique fully accepted and understood. Now, cranio-sacral therapy is practiced by physicians, chiropractors, massage therapists, acupuncturists and other bodyworkers. Of course, it an essential taught in osteopathic medicine.

 

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Q. : An "osteopath" is:

A. A walkway that is laid out at archaeological digs that leads researchers to fossilized bones.

B. Someone who studies the origin of various sweet, cheap Italian wines, (cf. "Asti Spumante.")

C. A fully licensed and accredited physician who can provide conventional (allopathic) medical care, perform surgery and write prescriptions but has also been extensively trained in medical school to offer patients more natural and holistic approaches to health and healing.

Say, have you noticed? There's this huge interest in natural means of healing and staying healthy these days. I mean, you can hardly drive past a drug store or coffee shop these days and not see signs offering the latest herb for this or the latest supplement for that. You stand at the counter at the corner Seven/Eleven and there's a box full of vials of "Ginseng Power-plus" or "Calming Kava" or whatever.

Even the local healthcare giants feel they have to get into the act. Big hospital programs with johnny-come-latelies offer classes in the power of music in healing or the value of infant massage.

Where did all these ideas come from? Are they new? Or as one friend mentioned to me once, is it true that the sequence of events goes something like the following?

PHASE ONE. The medical "establishment" first says something like "Oh yeah, that __________ stuff, (fill in the blank; aromatherapy, herbal supplements, meditation, hypnosis, etc. ) it's a waste of time, useless, quackery!"

PHASE TWO. Then, after people start using it and finding it helpful, the establishment says: "Well, (it) has some, but very little, merit."

PHASE THREE. Then, after the public starts demanding it, the establishment says: "Oh yeah, that __________ stuff, (fill in the blank; aromatherapy, herbal supplements, meditation, hypnosis, etc.) WE'RE EXPERTS AT IT, WE VIRTUALLY INVENTED IT." And next thing you know they're offering workshops on it and rolling out their so-called experts.

Well, wouldn't be nice to find someone who has been with the program for longer than a few months? A professional whose career and interests in healing were focused on the natural and holistic way before it was trendy? And if you are one of those individuals out there who still requires the Western medical paradigm to feel comfortable with the idea of herbs and nutrition and massage therapy and other natural means actually having a place in the repertoire of healing arts, then wouldn't it be nice for you to find someone educated in both the allopathic methods of Western medicine and also those natural means too? They're known as Osteopathic Physicians or Osteopaths. You'll know them by the letters D.O. after their name.

Most of us are used to the professional designation "M.D." We grew up with it. It's part of the American indoctrination. We are a doctor's nation. At one time, hardly any profession drew as much respect and awe. Though that may have changed somewhat in recent years, America's doctors still enjoy the opportunity to work in one of the most technologically advanced systems in the world. But, as much respect as Americans once gave M.D.s, the whole population seems to be swinging toward more natural means of taking care of their health. There are several reasons not necessary to mention, but the evidence is plain. What once was the purview of eccentrics has become the trend of the masses. And while we have all been familiar with the M.D., it is the D.O. that is emerging as the leader in the field of naturally-focused health care.

A Doctor of Osteopathy is conferred upon a candidate who has completed medical school in one of the specialized osteopathic colleges of medicine here in the United States. Unlike an M.D., there are no schools of osteopathy in any other country. A D.O. practicing medicine here will have graduated from one of only 19 such medical schools in the U.S. It's ironic that one of the questions a novice asks is if a D.O. is "a real doctor;" ironic because it (arguably,) takes more dedication and more training to become one, considering the fewer number of openings available across the country. For those who remember seeing osteopaths in England or the continent, there is a doctorate program in the U.K. It is different though. The British counterpart is a limited practice doctorate, similar to the doctorate of chiropractic here.

One source describes an osteopath as a physician who "prefers treatments which stimulate an individual's natural abilities to maintain or return to . . . optimum health." However, they can prescribe drugs, perform surgery and utilize all the modern techniques available. It is just that the preference and training is more oriented to natural methods.

While it is impossible to trace the historical origin of the modern M.D., the D.O. has a definite heritage in this country. Andrew Taylor Still was born in 1828. He became an M.D. and a surgeon in the Union Army during the bloodiest war in our nation's history, the Civil War. That period between the middle and later 19th century saw the medical profession enter the techno-pharmaceutical age. During the Civil War, drugs and anesthesia were virtually unheard of. But by a decade or so later, Dr. Still saw their use increase. He also saw the reliance on "after the fact" medicine and became more interested in the cause of disease rather than the treatment of symptoms. He did not abandon his medical degree or training but he also studied the art of "bonesetting" and applied the ideas of nutrition and natural methods to the health of the human body. He believed that the mind and the emotions were also vital to health. (Something modern research feels has to be validated through studies and experiments. OK.) Still founded the first medical school of osteopathy in Kirksville, Missouri in 1892.

Much of what Still taught recognized the role that the alignment of the structure of the body plays in health. Similar to chiropractic in that respect, he taught that the bones and skeletal system can be a key to wellness. Many of the problems a patient sees an osteopath for can indeed be addressed by the procedures of skeletal manipulation and improving the function of the body's own healing powers.

Still's approach to wellness also includes the concept that health is a result of a healthy lifestyle and nutritional choices. That's an idea all of America is seemingly embracing right now. Like the guy in the oil filter commercial says all the time, "You can pay me now, or pay me a lot more later." And the logic seems to be that it is easier and more enjoyable to stay healthy rather than try to get healthy after something goes wrong.

When Still started his medical school, those ideas were not novel. They had been around for centuries. And they are not novel today either. But they are not taught to any great extent in standard medical schools where the emphasis is, understandably, on drugs and surgical techniques. The procedures and knowledge about natural methods of healing that an osteopath learns in medical school cannot be picked up in a weekend workshop or off the Internet by someone who is only now becoming aware of the possibilities.

MOVING RIGHT ALONG
Many parts of the country are slow on the uptake, a little behind the curve, I like to say. It's not a bad thing, just an obvious thing. California has 1,981 practicing osteopaths as of August 1, 1998. Missouri has 1,818. Even Iowa has almost a thousand. Nebraska has . . . 65. Hey! It's better than none!

"Nebraska made it difficult for D.O.'s to license, harder than other states," said Michael Wallis of the American Osteopathic Association. "Around 1993, the Unicameral made it easier. I expect you'll see more osteopathic physicians now."

One source in 1993 estimated there would be 25,000 D.O.'s in the U.S. by 2000. "There are already, exactly, 43,650," Wallis said. "We used to see about 1200 graduates a year. This year there were 2,121. There were 15 schools just 5 years ago. There are now 19."

"What we have found is that when a state gets 200 or so, it really starts to increase awareness. It really takes off," Wallis said.

Since Nebraskans are not really slow people, but just live in a state of slow, the public demand will expose what people want. And since it's clear that Nebraskans want access to the alternatives that are out there, the practitioners will provide. Thankfully, practitioners are available who have made the use of these skills a life's calling, not just a trendy way to appear ahead of that curve.

Be well.


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Michael Braunstein is Executive Director of Heartland Healing and certified by the American Council of Hypnotist Examiners in clinical hypnotherapy. He graduated from the Los Angeles Hypnotism Training Institute and was an instructor at the UCLA Extension University for 11 years.

Heartland Healing is devoted to the examination of various alternative forms of healing. It is provided as a source of information and not as medical advice. It is not meant as an endorsement of any particular therapy, either by the writer or by Heartland Healing Center, Inc.


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